GLENDALE, Ariz. — After Atlanta Falcons backup quarterback Desmond Ridder ran in a touchdown with 2:33 left in the game to put Atlanta up by one Sunday, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, playing in his first game since tearing his ACL in December, thought to himself: “Of course, it sets up like this.”
Then Murray did what he’s done best during his five-year career: Make game-changing plays with his feet and arm. He orchestrated a 70-yard drive that included yet another highlight-worthy scramble and a throw that showcased his arm strength and accuracy. It was capped by a 23-yard field goal from kicker Matt Prater to give Arizona a 25-23 win at the buzzer at State Farm Stadium.
It had been 335 days — exactly 11 months to the day — since Murray tore his right ACL on “Monday Night Football” against the New England Patriots, the first major injury of his career. Murray said he just wanted one thing Sunday afternoon.
“I just want to win,” he said. “It feels good to win. I mean, that’s like the icing on the cake. It’d been a s—ty night to come out here and lose and then kind of just all this build up for what, you know what I mean? So, I’m just happy for us and the team, man. I’m just happy.”
Before Murray took the field to start the final drive, he was told where the line was for Prater’s range. Murray responded, saying he was going to get the ball all the way down the field. That’s exactly what he did.
After a handful of runs throughout the game that proved that his rehabilitated knee wouldn’t hamper his play, Murray showed he was back to his old self with 1:50 left in the game. On third-and-10, the play broke down and Murray was forced out of the pocket. First, he broke to his left and then reversed course to come back to his right before taking off straight ahead. He gained 13 yards to move Arizona into Atlanta territory, but he covered 74 yards and reached a top speed of 20.17 seconds, according to NFL NextGen Stats.
“It was like, ‘Man that felt good for him to get that and finish it in that way,” said wide receiver Marquise Brown after watching his good friend juke his way out of a bind and make something out of nothing.
Murray thought the Falcons had done a good job of containing him, but it wasn’t good enough.
“Had to make my mind up,” Murray said. “It may sound cliche or, like, not possible, but for me, it was like, at the end of the day, if it comes down to it being in my hands, I got to make something happen.”
If he had to take a hit to win the game, Murray said that’s what he was willing to do.
“Obviously, when you’re running like that, everything’s kind of blurry,” Murray said. “For me, it was just do whatever’s necessary to win.”
Falcons coach Jonathan Gannon described the run as “wild” and said Murray’s ability to make plays like that is “invaluable.”
“Oh my god, that’s crazy watching it live,” center Hjalte Froholdt said. “That’s who he is. He’s a playmaker and he makes plays in those situations, so crazy to watch, but I don’t think I’m too surprised.”
Two plays later, Murray hit tight end Trey McBride, who set a career high with 131 yards on eight catches, for a 33-yard pass that traveled 40 yards in the air to move Arizona to the Atlanta 9. Running back James Conner, who returned Sunday after missing four games with a knee injury to run for 73 yards on 16 carries, then bulldozed his way to the 2-yard-line. After two plays of maneuvering to get the ball exactly where Prater wanted it, he gave the Cardinals their second win of the season.
“He believes that if you give him the ball, he’s going to win the game,” Gannon said of Murray. “So, there it is.”
Sunday was the culmination of Murray’s highly anticipated comeback, and he couldn’t avoid the emotions of returning no matter how hard he tried. He worked to suppress them during the week, trying to stay as cool, calm and collected as he could, but they began to bubble Sunday morning when he returned home after spending the night at the team hotel.
While he passed the time, waiting to drive to the stadium, the anticipation started to build up in his chest. He tried to quell them as much as he could, not letting himself get too amped up.
“I thought I did a good job of not letting the emotions and everything get to me throughout this week, obviously, it being a big week,” Murray said. “But at the end of the day, man, just trying to come out here and get a win. That was the mindset.”
Murray hid whatever emotions he was experiencing during the week, even from Gannon.
“He doesn’t ride the emotional rollercoaster,” Gannon said.
When Murray walked into the huddle before the first play of the game, he clapped three times, a rare expression of emotion, but his teammates could see what being back meant to him.
“He’s a quiet guy,” Froholdt said. “You can see the passion in his eyes and it’s like, ‘Alright, we’re here to win.’ Like, every time he gets in that huddle you’re like, ‘We got a chance.'”
Murray finished with 249 yards and an interception on 19 of 32 passing to go along with 33 rushing yards and a touchdown on six carries. His rushing touchdown came on a six-yard run in the second quarter and put the Cardinals up 14-12. When Murray dropped back, he saw a hole and took advantage of it.
“He gave me a read like my legs didn’t work,” Murray said. “I haven’t had a read like that since like Year 2, but it was good.”
To Murray, his return “felt normal, felt right.” To Conner, Murray’s performance Sunday felt like “he’s making magic happen.”
“Obviously, a jolt of energy and belief within our team,” Gannon said. “That’s why he is who he is. Couldn’t be happier for the guy.”